Reported racist remarks said to have been made by Frank Hester, CEO of health software company TPP, inciting violence against the UK’s longest serving black MP Diane Abbott have resulted in widespread condemnation.

A Guardian report on Monday, 11 March, reported Hester saying at a 2019 TPP company meeting: “It’s like trying not to be racist but you see Diane Abbott on TV, and you just want to hate all black women because she’s there, and I don’t hate all black women at all, but I think she should be shot.”

In a statement, TPP didn’t deny Hester making the remarks, but instead sought to portray them as “rude” and said the TPP CEO was “deeply sorry for his comments” and condemned racism.

Hester has made himself a high-profile national figure by becoming the single biggest donor to the Conservative party.  Last May he donated £5m to the party and TPP has since made four separate donations totalling over £5m, taking total donations to over £10m.

By Monday evening the Conservative Party was being called upon to hand back the donations, now tainted by racism.

Anneliese Dodds, the chair of the Labour party, said: “These comments are reprehensible”.

“Frank Hester is the Conservative Party’s biggest ever donor, as well as a personal donor to the prime minister; it is therefore vital that Rishi Sunak and the Tories return his donations, in full without delay.”

Speaking in the Commons on Monday Labour Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting, said Hester had used “utterly revolting, racist and inciteful language. It has no place in our politics and public life” and called on the prime minister to apologise to Abbott and for the party to hand back donations “if it has any integrity at all”.

Meanwhile social media posters were aghast at the comments, the attitudes they revealed and called for action against Hester’s company.

Ross Fullerton posted “These comments from Frank Hester are abhorrent, incite violence and are openly racist.

“Many NHS teams rely on his company @TPP_SystmOne which holds detailed health records for millions of Britons.

“Should a fit and proper person test apply to major NHS suppliers?”

Dr Ayesha Rahim, clinical medical information officer at Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust,  meanwhile posted on X: “I’m disgusted by this. Unacceptable views. I’m speechless.”

While some called for a boycott of TPP, Chris Fleming head of health at Public Digital questioned on X whether this was likely to happen: “What a surprise that one of the most odious individuals in healthcare was caught saying something despicable.  The tragedy, he’ll still trouser his million every year thanks to the chronic failure in the primary care EPR market.”

Leading NHS consultant Rizwan Malik said bluntly on X: “Any trust or ICB that deploys TPP System! While he’s still at the helm should use their EDI Policy documents as loo paper as that’s about as much gravitas as they really give it.

“As an NHS supplier they must be held to account.”

TPP are listed as a sponsor of the Digital Health Rewired24 industry show running in Birmingham this week, organised by Digital Health, but will have no speakers and are not exhibiting.

Joint statement from The Shuri Network and Digital Health

The Shuri Network and Digital Health are disgusted by the reported comments made by Frank Hester, CEO of TPP.

Dr Shera Chok and the Shuri Network, which champions diversity and supports the careers of BAME women in digital health said: 

“Frank’s reported comments are misogynistic, racist and unacceptable. They also shine a light on the bigger questions we as the NHS and an informatics community need to address: where do we draw the line on working with organisations? And what action can we collectively do to stop this and enable positive change?

“These remarks stand in stark contrast to the values we champion: diversity, inclusion, and respect within the digital health sector. We are committed to not only addressing these issues head-on but also to fostering a culture where such views are openly challenged and corrected. In light of this, we are calling upon our community at Rewired 2024 to join us to develop actionable steps toward a more inclusive environment.

“We have a joint responsibility, at all levels of the NHS – national leaders to those working within healthcare settings – to speak out and challenge views that have no place in our industry. We urge delegates at Rewired over the next two days and those not attending, to use this opportunity to come together as a community to debate and agree what should happen next. Together, we can turn this moment into a catalyst for real and lasting progress.”

Jon Hoeksma, CEO of Digital Health added:

“We stand with The Shuri Network in condemning the reported comments. We remain committed to working closely with allies such as The Shuri Network to support better inclusion and diversity within the sector. Progress has been made, but clearly there remains more to do.

“Today the digital health community convenes at Rewired 2024 – organised by Digital Health – where TPP is a named sponsor. However, I want to put on record that Digital Health will no-longer be working with TPP while Frank Hester is at the helm.”

The Guardian later reported that TPP’s lawyers, Carter-Ruck, said the comments were not a true or accurate characterisation of the company or Hester.

Story updated at 5 pm to include a Guardian update citing TPP’s lawyers.